Paul Virilio: The Primal Accident


Museum of Accidents

…a prefiguration of a future Museum of Accident, the exhibition aims first and foremost to take a stand against the collapse of ethical and aesthetic landmarks…
…..– Paul Virilio, The Original Accident

What if the Universe itself is the primal accident, the catastrophe that is a productivity? Signs and portents, invention as a “way of seeing” – a revealing of the substance of things unseen until the eruption occurs, and that which was hidden is revealed at last. What if the shadow of accidents held the key to all those inventions, the technological and scientific wonders that surround us coming at the expense of disasters, catastrophes, the accidental? As Paul Virilio will say:

And so serial reproduction of the most diverse catastrophes has dogged the great discoveries and the great technological inventions like a shadow, and, unless we accept the unacceptable, meaning allow the accident in turn to become automatic, the urgent need for an ‘intelligence of the crisis in intelligence’ is making itself felt, at the very beginning of the twenty-first century – an intelligence which ecology is the clinical symptom, anticipating the imminent emergence of a philosophy of post-industrial eschatology. 1

Eschatology: Latinized form of Greek eskhatos “last, furthest, uttermost, extreme, most remote”. From the other ends of time, the extreme movement of time itself as the primal accident, the temporal decay or entropic fulfillment, the eschaton – the “divinely ordained climax of history”. Is the Universe itself an accident, a catastrophe? Was the very burst or eruption into time of this substantive realm, the ontological thingness of our Universe a pure accident? But what if we elide the divine element? Empty the sign of its origination, its inventive dispotif and tendency? Yet, as Virilio will surmise, what if our very awareness were elided, too? What if we were through some accident of biogenetics or bioengineering subtracted from the very power of awareness, would the insane nature of our acts not only stop consciously worrying us, but shape us to a thrilling and captivating jouissance without knowledge? (6)

What if our love of knowledge were an accident, a dispotif that drives us toward catastrophe, a joyous tendency that seeks in us its catastrophic transport? (6) What if our emerging neurosciences and technologies of intelligence (AI) were already spawning catastrophes, models of the apocalypse, driving us toward goals we have from the beginning always already been knowing in the dreams of philosphers and poets for millennia? In fact, it is our responsibility to look after the future, to anticipate and “expose accidents along with the frequency of their industrial and post-industrial repetition” (7).

For a century now we have invented the very terrors and disasters that are now revealing themselves out of the shadows, erupting out of the very realities we once took for images, films prefiguring the actual in the virtual movement of minds long dead. Death stalks us in cinematic frames like a dark intentional substance from the flickering frames of some science fiction horror film of the 1950’s. Only now have these shadowy images entered the daylight of our present movement of disaster. Only now in the careful elaboration of this exhibition do we “pay homage to discernment, to preventative intelligence, at a time when threats of triggering a preventative war … abound” (8).

  1. Virilio, Paul. The Original Accident. (Polity Press, 2007)

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